Today, the ‘Times Online’ website published an article by Archbishop Vincent Nicholls of Westminster dealing with the clergy/child abuse scandal currently rocking the Church. The Archbishop was unequivocal in his condemnation of those clergy responsible, but also made the point that in England and Wales over a period of 40 years the number of alleged cases involved a total of 0.4 per cent of the clergy, that is 4 out of every 1000, which conversely means that 996 out of every 1000 priests were not involved. Of course as the Archbishop also stated, just one case would be one case too many, but reading the often vitriolic headlines in the Press and on-line, it is clear that these unfortunate events have presented the opportunity for an orchestrated and deliberate verbal and written attack on the Catholic Church in general, and on the person of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in particular. The media, particularly the BBC and I would suggest the Times and probably other liberal newspapers, have had a great time publishing fiction and innuendo as fact. The published comments online immediately following Archbishop Nicholls article, are generally vitriolic towards the Catholic Church and the Pope, most are prejudiced and ignorant of the facts, and many unreasoning and unreasonable. Interestingly, I endeavoured twice to post a comment to redress the injustice and calumnies inherent in 90% of the Comments, but neither was published. It would seem that the Times Online had an agenda in both printing Archbishop Nicholls article, and then throwing it to the wolves to tear to pieces with the weapons of hatred, prejudice and ignorance, without allowing alternative opinions. This experience has revealed the hypocrisy prevalent in those powerful and vested interests in control of so much of our media. I wonder why the criticism aimed at our Church and our Pope, is not aimed at our legislation and lawmakers, who with the legalisation of abortion 40 or so years ago, have directly caused the death of some 7 million babies in the UK, murdered in their mother’s womb - surely the most wicked and ultimate abuse. What about the widespread pornography and so-called 'soft porn' displayed on virtually every bookstall, often in apparently 'respectable' magazines and even newspapers, this is abuse of the minds and the souls of the young and not so young, and the same applies to various internet sites. Why does the media not attack this? Is it that certain publishing houses and web-sites owned by media moguls or companies, have a vested interest in promoting such matter. What about the new Education and Families Act currently awaiting consideration by the House of Lords, which if approved will enforce sex-education in schools to children as young as five years old, and will includes promotion of contraception and abortion, and the physical aspect of homosexuality. Thus is planned the deliberate destruction of innocence, a truly evil abuse promoted by the State on a nationwide scale.
We are all weak, we are all sinners, and we all make mistakes, but we thank God for our Church and for our Holy Father, who we love and trust. God bless Pope Benedict XVI, and may our Blessed Lady and all the angels and saints, protect and guide him at all times.
As a beneficial Lenten exercise, I have been reading 'Henry Morse - Priest of the Plague' by Philip Caraman S.J. published by Longmans,Green & Co.(1957), and I have to admit that it was an entirely pleasurable experience with no penitential element whatsoever - I hope that does not disqualify it as a Lenten exercise!
Having read the book I am dedicating this totally inadequate post to the memory of this holy and courageous Englishman, and to the many other Saints and Catholic Martyrs of this violently anti-Catholic period of English history.
Henry Morse was born in 1595 in Broome, Suffolk, one of 14 children of Robert Morse, farmer and landowner. Aged 15years he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, then two years later Barnard’s Inn to study Law. Throughout his years at Barnard’s Inn and later in chambers, he attended Anglican services irregularly and never once received the Sacrament. In 1610 his father died and there are reasons to believe that he was received into the Church prior to his death. In 1613, Henry’s older brother William, gave up law -studies to enter the seminary at Douai, and Robert his third brother, almost certainly became a Catholic on his marriage to Margaret Bedingfield, the daughter of Henry Bedingfield ‘one of the most obstinate Papists’ in Norfolk. On 5th June 1614, Henry Morse also arrived at the English seminary at Douai, where ‘having learnt the certain truth of the Catholic faith’ he was received into the Catholic Church, and decided that he wanted to become a priest.
Returning to England the same year to sort out his estate, he was arrested almost immediately for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, and spent the next four years in the New prison in Southwark. Released under a brief amnesty he was banished to the Continent, arriving at Douai for the second time in August 1618. He was then moved to the English College, Rome, assuming the name Claxton, by which he was principally known for the rest of his life. He remained there until 1623 when he was ordained to the priesthood.
He then returned to England intending to join the Society of Jesus as soon as formalities permitted, and passed the next three years ministering in the north of England, specifically Yorkshire and Durham, during which time he brought the Sacraments to many, including those sick and dying from the plague in Newcastle.
In 1626 he was captured whilst leaving the county by boat – and subsequently spent the next four years in prison, initially in York Gaol, and thereafter in York Castle. Whilst officially suspected of being a priest, it could not be proved, and in 1630 he was released and ordered to leave the country.
The next three years were spent at the Jesuit seminary at Watten, in Belgium, during which time his work included the spiritual care of English soldiers involved in fighting against the Dutch forces, followed by a year at the Jesuit church in Liege. Then at the end of 1633 he again set sail for England, destined on this occasion for London.
Plots and pamphlets fuelled the anti-Catholic sentiments of the common people. Tales of the 'Gunpowder Plot' were kept alive, and the thirty English Jesuits working in London were represented as a secret regiment of four orders, waiting and working for the chance to overturn the realm. The first ‘order’ comprised ‘ecclesiastics, the second politicians, the third seculars, and the last- the intelligencers or spies, men of an inferior sort.’ who insinuated themselves into the service of great men so cleverly that gentleman were cautioned ‘lest they entertain a Jesuit or Roman spy in their houses instead of a servant’ .It was said that the chief plotters had imported a special ‘India- nut stuffed with the 'most- sharp' poison’ which was kept prepared for the King’s assassination’.
KING CHARLES I
Ironically, the anti-Jesuit feeling was fomented by, among others, a small group of secular clergy who kept in constant touch with Protestant leaders. Their aim was to ‘animate’ the laity to deliver a petition to the King ’for the banishment of the Jesuits as incendiaries and disturbers of the public peace’. The representative of this group in Rome was a priest, who several years earlier had publicly fallen out with the Jesuit administrator and staff at the Roman College, alleging that they were unfairly 'persuading' seminarians and newly ordained priests to join the Jesuits, at the expense of the regular clergy. This allegation, opposed by a counter-petition from the majority of the students at the Roman College, was taken to the Pope and the Vatican authorities. The complaint was not upheld, but it did cause subsequent practical problems for the Jesuits. The priest was expelled from the College, moved to another seminary where he was ordained, later coming to England where he became a member of the London Chapter. In 1624, Richard Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon, had set up an Episcopal chapter and claimed sole rights to grant ‘faculties’ to priests in England. The Jesuits had by arrangement, received their faculties direct from the Holy See, dating from the time of Edmund Campion in 1580. Although Bishop Smith resigned after one year, with the Holy See quashing his disputed methods, the chapter continued using the rights asserted by the Bishop. As a result of their representations, Fr Southworth, a heroic but simple priest, who worked with Henry Morse, was persuaded that Fr Morse had no true faculties, and that consequently all the confessions he had heard were invalid. When he heard of this Morse was angry and sought out his fellow-worker, pointing out that the Holy See had granted the Jesuits their faculties, and that at ‘any time’ it was disloyal to call the grant into question, but at such a time as this - arousing doubt in the minds of the sick and dying, it was far worse. There was no further quarrel between the two priests, who continued to work together in their mission to the plague victims. .
VICTIMS OF THE PLAGUE
For the next four years Morse worked in the parish of St Giles- in- the- Field, where the working furnaces below street level, belonging to brewers, dyers, lime-burners, and boilers of soap and salt, caused more smoke and soot in the streets, than in any suburban or city parish. Through vents and tunnels at street level, they were ‘constantly belching forth from their sooty jaws’.With the advent of the plague, an atmosphere of fear, pestilence and death, permeated the streets, with nauseating and suffocating odours hanging in the air, made even worse in the summer months, with piles of accumulating rubbish mingled with un-swept scourings from the houses of the sick. The fear of contagion meant that the streets were no longer swept. ‘Cats, dogs, conies and tame pigeons’ were ordered to be destroyed, with ‘swine restricted from ranging up and down the streets’. Strangely the principal carrier of the disease, the English or black rat, was regarded with least suspicion, and with great ease it made its runs through the lath and plastered walls of the timbered houses. In the 18th century the English rat was largely driven out by the stronger Norwegian or Hanoverian brown rat, which lived more remotely in sewers. With the virtual extinction of the English or black rat, the plague ceased.
Morse’s physician, Dr Thomas Turner, was a Catholic. He and another Catholic, Dr More, had attended the sick throughout the plague. These two men, with other Catholic physicians in London, worked in cooperation with Morse. Theirs was the only profession from which Catholics were not rigidly excluded. Qualification at home, in London or the two Universities, was made difficult at times; nevertheless no obstacles were put in the way of their practising.
THE APOTHECARY (1)
Turner had qualified at Padua, the best medical school in Europe, where Dr More had been appointed a lecturer on taking his degree. Both were members of the Royal College of Physicians, devout Catholics, with brothers among the English priests. On the feast day of Our Lady’s nativity 1636, Morse himself fell sick for the first time. He had been fully occupied for many weeks hearing confessions and administering the sacraments to the sick and dying, and on this day on returning to his lodgings he felt the first symptoms, a sense of weariness with slight shivering and giddiness. Dr Turner was called and prescribed a nightly sweat. Morse continued to work during the day – the need and numbers of the sick allowed him no respite- and very slowly he recovered sufficient strength to resume his customary night calls.
'QUACK DOCTOR' - CARICATURE (1)
It was only a short while however, before he was subject to a second more severe attack. He became seriously ill and was ordered by his religious superior to give up altogether his work for the plague- stricken, and to rest until he had made a full recovery. It was as Morse finished reading this letter that he was suddenly conscious that the ‘crisis-point’ of his illness had passed and the danger of death was gone. Fr Morse himself called this a ‘marvellous occurrence’, and a later biographer used the phrase ‘near miraculous’. Morse was convinced that it was from that specific moment that his recovery began. Turner himself attended Morse in spite of the latter’s objections that he was taking an unwarranted risk, and with his own hands, softened the carbuncles on the priest’s body; then lanced them. It was his duty, he said, to serve personally a priest who had devoted himself to saving the lives of the poor; ‘If I acted otherwise I would be unworthy of all the Catholic medical men in London’. After the operation Morse offered the doctor the customary fee, which Turner returned as alms for the sick.
The large number of Catholic doctors in attendance on the London sick helped to reduce the wasteful expenditure by the poor on ‘quack’ medicines. Morse was shocked at the large sums the poor spent on worthless pills and lozenges. In ignorance and in desperate search for immunity or cure, the sick of London assured the 'quacks' of brisk business. One such trader with a smattering of medical knowledge and a much-vaunted family business, promoted the sale of his wares through such pamphlets as ‘A watchman for the Pest’ and ‘Teaching the True Rules of Preservation from the Contagion’, although in his introduction he did write truly:- ‘Poor people, by reason of their great want, living sluttishly, feeding nastily on offals, on the waste and unwholesome meats, and many times lacking food altogether, have both their bodies much corrupted and their spirit exceedingly weakened, and for this reason they become of all others much subject to this sickness.’ There were remedies for the rich, such as electuary or antiloymon, sold at two shillings an ounce, and a ‘Liquor of Life’ priced at five shillings a pint, as well as perfumes for airing clothes, sweet waters for sponges, and other perfumes to cast on a hot fire-shovel. Such medicines were for the wealthy, but if they wanted to survive they had to pay for it! - ‘I confess these remedies are costly, but slight means and cheap medicines, however they promise, prove as dear as death’.
'QUACK' DOCTOR' - CARICATURE (2)
To the poor, only the ‘Powder of Life’ at threepence a grain, was available, its virtues were beyond ‘modesty of expression’. Although certain ‘mountebanks’ among the physicians offered good herbal prescriptions, the extravagant promotion of their more worthless remedies reduced the sale of the cheaper and more genuine medicines. All that the genuinely caring physicians could do to counteract the quacks, was to recommend thick London treacle morning and evening – a remedy first used in the Black Death to fortify the skin against sores. But even then they met with competition, for the quacks claimed special mixtures, which cured both venereal disease and plague sores. In many parts lawlessness was rife, with closing of businesses and manufacturers creating a great number of unemployed, often homeless and impecunious, seeking only to survive. The constabulary was inadequate, prostitution was widespread, and the popular belief that venereal disease gave immunity from the plague led to lewd scenes in the streets.
In an effort to find out ‘the nature, origin, and ways of curing the plague’ certain self-styled observers noted how each individual caught the infection. A curious list published in a widely-read pamphlet, attributed more than seventy causes. 'An entire family', the author noted, 'had perished from drinking small beer in an over-heated room; an old lady, recently dead, had eaten red cherries, another a cucumber, a third a dish of eels, and so on, through codling tart, cream and gooseberry fool to the fat near the rump of a loin of mutton!' The tales were believed, although the list left scarcely a single food for those who sought immunity. The people were in panic which an official ‘scientific enquiry into the manner of infection’ did nothing to allay. The recommendation of the Royal College of Physicians was based on the premise that infection was air-borne, and they recommended street bonfires, with every householder in London obliged to lay sufficient pitch and faggots in the street for three fires a week. This remedy dated from the time of Hippocrates, who was said to have relieved a plague-ridden city by setting fire to a wood that encircled it. While the fires flared in the street, the cannon of the Tower were daily fired in an effort to ‘correct the infectious air’.
To prevent the spread of the disease, all dwellings in which a case of plague had been identified, were sealed- up, together with all the inhabitants, infected or not, who were locked in and forbidden to come out. All windows and doors were sealed to prevent the sickness spreading. It was a crime to attempt to escape from the city. A small amount of money was available to the sick from the ‘parish collections’, but this was not available for Catholics who had to rely on funding from their priests and fellow Catholics. The condition of poor Catholics in London became so desperate that a special written appeal formulated by Henry Morse and his fellow priest John Southworth, was circulated to all the ‘Catholics of England’ asking for money to provide food, clothing, nursing requirements, and other needs, to those ‘suffering so great a desolation among our poor brethren’. The response was generous, the principal contributor being her Majesty the Queen, the Catholic Henriette Marie. Her first gift was five hundred gold crowns, with other gifts following - the fund became known among the poor as ‘Her Majesty’s Alms’.
CATHOLIC QUEEN - HENRIETTE MARIE
Some Puritan preachers ascribed the cause of the plague to the ‘idolatory’ practised by the Papists. Such wild assertions were believed without question by many of the simple-minded people among the poorer classes of London. In 1637 Morse was apprehended by pursuivants and brought before the magistrates for the offence of being a Catholic priest. He was found guilty and incarcerated in Newgate prison pending sentence.Whilst there, on 23 April, the Tuesday of Easter week, he took his final vows as a Jesuit before Fr Edward Lusher SJ. His work with plague victims was widely known and respected, and after his conviction a petition had been addressed to the King for his release. Within a few weeks the Kings formal order for his discharge was delivered to Newgate. The pardon, the King said, was granted ‘at the instance of our dearest consort, the Queen’, the principal benefactor of Morse’s plague stricken Catholics. Morse then spent 12 months working in the south-west of England, before going into exile once again in Belgium.
From 1641 for about two years, Morse was once again Chaplain to the English soldiers in Flanders, followed by a short period preaching retreats to the English nuns at Ghent and Antwerp, then in 1643 his superiors authorised his return to England.
KING CHARLES I - MOCKED BY ROUNDHEADS
Civil War raged in England, and Morse was sent again to the Newcastle and Durham area. Plague had broken out in the area, and he was occupied visiting the sick and dying, and the Catholics of the area, many of whom had suffered violently from attacks by Scottish raiders who were intent on destroying all things 'Papist'. In 1644 whilst visiting a sick Catholic, Morse was arrested by a group of Parliamentarian soldiers. He was placed in the house of the local Justice of the Peace, but with the assistance of the lady of the house made good his escape. For six weeks he was in hiding in a remote part of the county, but after the capture of Newcastle by Scots and Parliamentary troops, he decided to move. In the process he was again apprehended, imprisoned in Durham, transferred to Newcastle prison, then taken by boat to London via Yarmouth, where he was incarcerated in Newgate prison.
On New Years day 1645, he appeared before the magistrates Court of St Giles-in-the-Fields, and was remanded to Newgate. On the 17th of the same month Morse appeared before the Recorder and was charged "that convicted of his priesthood on 13 April in the thirteenth year of Charles I, he was reprieved without judgement; since that time he had retired to foreign parts; now he had returned to England". Earlier that same month, the Commons in debate established the principle that it possessed the right to declare any crime it pleased as treason, and shortly after the House of Lords, under pressure from the Commons, passed the ordinance of attainment. Thus Henry Morse was convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
On his last day in Newgate, Morse befriended a fellow inmate, an Irish Franciscan from Ulster, Fr Christopher, who had been captured in his own country, carried across the Irish Sea, and left in Newgate to die. In later years this Franciscan described the moment Fr Morse embraced him, ‘There was nothing belonging to this world in his expression: his face was so lit up with joy that if I had been a heathen or a heretic, the experience of sweetness I then had would have won me to the faith he professed. And it was not a brief or fleeting experience; it has abided with me to my old age.’
At Tyburn, prior to his execution, he reaffirmed in his final address to the huge crowd of onlookers, estimated at more than 50,000,
‘I am come hither to die for my religion. For that religion which was founded by Christ, established by the Apostles, and propagated through all the ages since to the present day by a visible hierarchy; a religion that rests on the testimony of the Scriptures, supported by the authority of the Fathers and Councils, outsidewhich there is no salvation.’
He then continued,
‘I have a secret to declare whichhighly concerns his Majesty and Parliament to know.’
The crowd hushed.
‘Gentlemen take notice,’
'the kingdom of England will never be truly blest until it returns to the Catholic and apostolic faith, and until its subjects are all united in one belief and live in obedience to one head, the Bishop of Rome. This is the secret, Sir, if you will have it; this is the treason I have to disclose. Other treason I know none. But I do know for a certainty that the true cause of all the troubles and miseries which the nation groans under at this present time, is heresy – heresy which has grown like a canker through his Majesty’s dominions; and till it be cut out, will continue rotting the very bowels of the nation.’
Finally he said,
‘To this very day it is the only faith confirmed by miracles still continuing, by which the blind see, the dumb speak, and the dead are raised to life’.
Then he addressed the sheriff,
‘What say you, Mr Sheriff? If you saw the dead returned to life, would you not believe? Tell me,’
‘Would you not say that it was the true Church where all these things are done?For thy testimonies, O Lord, are made incredible exceedingly.’
He then asked that his nightcap be drawn over his eyes, for this was the custom. After speaking those words uttered by many priests at Tyburn –‘in manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum’, he struck his breast three times – the sign for a priest in the crowd to give him the last absolution, and the cart was drawn away leaving Morse hanging. He was permitted to hang until he was dead, seldom then was the victim cut down alive, after which his body was quartered on the block.
RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
Our Lady Queen of Heaven, pray for us and for our Country, and guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
Prayer for the beatification of Bishop Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra, Vicar Apostolic of the London District 1758-1781. O God, who didst make thy servant Richard a true and faithful pastor of thy little flock in England, deign to place him among the Blessed in Thy Church, so that we who profit by his word and example, may beg his help in heaven for the return of this land to the ancient faith, and to the fold of the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Slightly frayed around the edges and still trying to pretend that I'm not really as old as that! I thank God for all my blessings, particularly my Catholic faith; my wife a 'pearl of great price'; my children and grandchildren; my friends; our dog Dartmoor; and our good neighbours and spiritual mentors, the F.SS.R community from Papa Stronsay.